War Story, A

Release Information
November 8, 1981
Edmonton (Citadel)
Library and Archives Canada - Canadian Feature Film Database (LAC)
Funding Sources
Act/Policy
Budget
Actual cost: $368,000
Distributors
National Film Board
National Film Board

Production Details

Executive Producer
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Tom Radford
Tom Radford
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Producer
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Line Producer
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Director
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Michael Scott
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Director of Photography
Robert Nichol
Robert Nichol
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Ron Orieux
Director of Sound
Ralph Parker
Ralph Parker
Ralph Parker
Ralph Parker
Michèle Lalonde
Music
Maurice Marshall
Maurice Marshall
Maurice Marshall
Writer
Doug Bagot
Doug Bagot
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Michèle Lalonde
Michèle Lalonde
Tom Radford
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Editor
Ray Harper
Cast
Tom Whitton
Cecil Grinstead
Tosio Takahashi
George Tsuruda
Tim Davidson
Jim Algie
Larry Bauer
Philip Zyp
Keith Mullan
Bill Johnston
Grant Carmichael
Brian Laird
Rodrigue Deschênes
Gerry Whelpton
Alan Stebbings
Alan Stebbings
Alan Stebbings
Dean Stoker
Dean Stoker
Patrick McGuigan
W. Forrest MacDonald
Doug Bagot
Doug Bagot
Doug Kier
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
Frank C. Turner
David Edney
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Donald Sutherland
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Michèle Lalonde
Michèle Lalonde
Michèle Lalonde
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
Anne Wheeler
82 minutes, 1980

Anne Wheeler’s feature film, Bye Bye Blues (1989) about how her mother fed her family of three boys during World War II by singing in a dance band is more widely known than her earlier docudrama, A War Story (1981), which was about her father’s experiences in a Japanese POW Camp in Taiwan. However, the two films provide rare bookends to the experiences of one family under hardship. Separated by half a world during wartime for nearly four years, the Wheelers each endured that separation as constructively as they could.

During his time at the POW Camp, Ben Wheeler tended to the sick and dying with almost no supplies and under the most primitive of conditions. Anne Wheeler interviewed several of the survivors. She discovered that her father had had to perform surgery with no anaesthetic and with only a razor blade for the incision. These and other stories about the ingenuity and high standard of care provided by Ben Wheeler to men whose hope of survival was almost non-existent is remembered in a series of affecting interviews the filmmaker conducted with survivors now living around the world. A War Story makes skilful use of the usual documentary techniques, employing clips from wartime newsreels, old photos and reminiscences to build up the background and provide colour to the story.

But it is Anne Wheeler’s decision to dramatize the actual life in the camp that makes this an unforgettable film. Using a grainy black and white effect, cinematographers Robert Nichol and Ron Orieux re-create the daily lives of the prisoners in a manner reminiscent of actual footage taken from POW camps. The starving prisoners move with what appears to be stoic, slow motion. The camera takes an almost clinical look at the sores, the protruding bones, the emaciated flesh. We see patients held down by their friends while the doctor operates.

Interspersed with these re-enactments of life in the camp, we watch Ben Wheeler as he writes methodically each day in a journal that he must hide from the Japanese; he records every event as well as his thoughts about his family. Edney, who never speaks in the silent footage of the re-creation, plays Wheeler with an intensity and simplicity that are riveting. Canadian actor, Donald Sutherland is the “voice” of the film, narrating from Major Wheeler’s diary in a quiet, methodical way that matches perfectly the actions of Edney on screen. The audience has the sense that it is present during these terrible years of imprisonment.

Evelyn Ellerman

Commentaries


  • Anne Wheeler’s 30-year career as a Canadian filmmaker has been punctuated by many fine moments, among which was the release in 1989 of her third feature film, Bye Bye Blues. Nominated for thirteen Genie awards and winner of three awards for best...

  • Anne Wheeler’s feature film, Bye Bye Blues (1989) about how her mother fed her family of three boys during World War II by singing in a dance band is more widely known than her earlier docudrama, A War Story (1981), which was about her father’s...

Contributed Notes